September 30, 2013

Getting Graphic: "Locke & Key Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & Key Vol. 4: Keys to the Kingdom
written by Joe Hill
illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
IDW (2011)
146 pages
ISBN: 9781600108860

It has become abundantly clear to me that Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are a dream team, because Locke & Key has turned into one of the best series I've ever read.

Where the first three volumes in this series offered a fairly conventional presentation in the storyline, a stellar presentation at that to be sure, the fourth volume really starts to play with the medium a bit and tries a couple new things. In the first chapter, Sparrow, there is a wink-and-nod to comic strips of old like Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts, as the Locke & Key world is seen through the imaginative eyes of Bode. The latest key to reveal itself to the brave boy is one that seems to bring out the holder's animal spirit, which in Bode's case is a sparrow. Every kid dreams of flying and the wonder and terror of this reality is superbly captured.

While Bode gradually builds his confidence, Kinsey struggles to connect emotionally with Zach (Dodge in disguise), while Tyler struggles with depression as he places all of the family's burden squarely on his shoulders. The discipline they initially showed in handling and using the keys erodes with each issue it seems, as the temptation of such easy powers gets the better of them at times, plus Kinsey and Bode each become a little free-and-easy with their friends and spill secrets they shouldn't about the keys. "White" and "February" do a lot to show just how far the three Locke children have come since moving to Lovecraft, and how far they have fallen from their original quest to stop Dodge.

Things really get ratcheted up in this fourth volume and taken to places I didn't really expect, which has been great because the revelations that come about feel so organic that it's a wonder I didn't see them coming from the get-go. Kinsey, for instance, lets slip to her two best friends, Scot and Jamal, about the head key. The two boys already had a bit of tension between them as they both pine over Kinsey secretly, but when they start toying with their own minds, the weirdness goes to a whole new level.

Then there was the chapter called "February" that felt like a highlight reel of high adventure, with only snapshots of their increasingly frequent battles with Dodge and the monsters the evil specter can summon. That chapter alone proved to be a visual feast.

All of the chapters were candy for the eyeballs, really. Even the gruesomeness depicted in the climax of the final chapter "Detectives" was incredible. I have a hard time thinking of any series, graphic novel or otherwise, that has created such an otherworldly universe and kept its humanity through the three main characters so expertly. The first three books were great, but this fourth one was just stellar, and the way it leaves off heading into the fifth volume is tremendous. Despite the inevitable bellyaching over the violence and coarse language in the book, it would not surprise me to find these books being used as learning material in a school somewhere. If you want to read a classic before it's even completed, Locke & Key is it.

September 27, 2013

A Game of Tropes: a review of George R.R. Martin's and Gardner Dozois' "Down These Strange Streets

Down These Strange Streets: All-New Stories of Urban Fantasy

edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Ace (2011)

479 pages

ISBN 0441020747 

For an anthology with so many high profile names, particularly George R.R. Martin, I don't think I heard a peep about this book. I just happened to spot it sitting on a shelf at my local library during the winter and decided to check it out. Mr. Martin doesn't include a story of his own, nor Dozois, simply collecting a bunch of stories from other authors and providing an informative introduction.

Despite my affinity for urban fantasy, my familiarity with many of the authors included in this anthology is rather limited. So, this book wound up as much a sampler of each author's work as it was an excursion into one of my favorite genres.

Now, the whole UF genre is given a lot of leeway in this anthology. Most folks probably picture sexy ladies in the city thwarting villains while snogging some supernatural hunk of man candy. This is not that kind of anthology. Well, there is a little of that in this anthology, but there's way more to it than the stereotypes would lead you to believe. Charlaine Harris's story "Death of Dahlia" kicks things off with a vampire investigating a murder inside a house with a bunch of other vampires. I read the very first Sookie Stackhouse book, didn't care for it a whole lot, but I enjoyed this vamp mystery.

A couple of the names that caught my eye when first perusing the table of contents were Joe R. Lansdale, whose story "The Bleeding Shadow" definitely stepped away from the conventional idea of urban fantasy. Set in the late 40s with a sometimes P.I. helping out a friend find her brother after she receives a strange record from him that has an otherworldly hold to it, only for the guy to find the brother and a whole lot more trouble than he'd figured on. I'm a sucker for Lansdale's stories, and this one didn't disappoint. The other name I noticed was Patricia Briggs. I haven't read her Mercy Thompson books yet, but I've got one on my bookshelf waiting to be read, and she's been recommended to me enough times that this was my first real chance to sample her work. "In Red, with Pearls" wound up being a standout story for me, too. It involves Warren, a werewolf, and his lover Kyle trying to figure out who sent a zombie to kill Kyle. With the help of a couple witches, Warren sets off to hunt down who's responsible. The story played out in a bit of a predictable fashion in the end, but it was told in such an entertaining fashion that I didn't mind one bit. I'm definitely making that Briggs novel on my shelf, Cry Wolf, a priority to read this year.

Along with a few other enjoyable tales like Simon R. Green's "The Hungry Heart" and Carrie Vaughn's "It's Still the Same Old Story," this anthology wound up a pleasant surprise in my wandering my local library's shelves. After reading it, I think I'll need to look up a few of these authors' UF novels and give 'em a go. In that sense, I suppose this book accomplished what it set out to do.


September 26, 2013

Who Wrote This Sh*t: Gilmour Girls Edition

David Gilmour teaches fiction at the University of Toronto's Victoria College. Just don't ask him to teach about fiction written by women.

The award-winning author inadvertently let slip in this interview with Random House of Canada's online lit mag that he not only doesn't include works by female authors in his teaching curriculum (outside of a single short story by Virginia Woolf), he doesn't really even care for literature written by anyone other than middle-aged men--white men at that, by the looks of the names he references.

And when people started reading the interview, and subsequently sounded their disapproval online, poor ol' Dave was caught off guard by the uproar. And in his defense, a grey-haired male writer teaching about other grey-haired male writers isn't exactly unheard of on college campuses, so it's not like this is some new and outrageous phenomenon. Just a worn out one.

But, rather than outright apologize for focusing so intently on the works of old white men--since he's an old white man himself and they are just so under-appreciated in literary circles--David Gilmour offered a half-hearted apology and, in my opinion, further stuck his foot in his mouth during this interview with The National Post by doubling down on his willful ignorance and even offering a less-than-subtle wag of his finger to the woman who originally interviewed him, as if she had written a hatchet piece on his teaching practices. Poor, poor Dave.

Okay, so before the pillorying of the man continues for his "over-the-shoulder"remarks (his words, as if that dispels the criticism right there), let's consider his reasoning. He doesn't bother with stories by female authors because he doesn't "love women writers enough to teach them." Better to focus on the stuff he does love to read. He's doing his students a favor, don't you see?

Of course, the way I see it, he'd do his students an even bigger favor by stepping aside so an instructor with a more robust approach to the written word might impart some much-needed wisdom to the young minds at David Gilmour's mercy.

It's not that he thinks women are inferior writers, it's just it seems there are only two he really gives a shit about in the first place. When pressed to name his favorite female authors, all he could come up with were the names Virginia Woolf and Alice Munro--"and that's about it, in terms of who I really love."  Wonderful.

You know what, fine. David Gilmour's reading habits are in a rut. Big deal. So are the reading habits of a lot of people, myself included at times. We all have our go-to interests, and in David Gilmour's case it is the navel-gazing exploits of his aging brethren. Knock yourself out, Davey. The authors you name, such as Truman Capote and Anton Chekhov, are great choices no matter who you are. But we're not just talking about personal preference here, but teaching people about the written word--most of whom are women too, apparently--and excluding all but one female writer from mention. That strikes me as silly. And I would have hoped that a literature instructor would have a slightly more diverse list of books to have his students study. I was wrong, and for that I apologize for my ignorance.

On a parting note, I can't help but find it a tad funny this guy could very well walk away with the Scotia Bank Giller Prize this year, for his novel, Extraordinary, considering the award is named in honor of Doris Giller--gasp--a female writer. Good luck to you, Dave.

September 25, 2013

Big Brothers and Bigger Research: an interview with Eric Pierpoint, author of "The Last Ride of Caleb O'Toole"

Eric Pierpoint is a veteran Hollywood actor who has been on stage, screen, and television for nearly thirty five years and whose credits include Hart of Dixie, Parks and Recreation, Alien Nation, The World’s Fastest Indian, and Holes.

His new novel is called The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole: Caleb O’Toole and his two sisters are left orphaned after a cholera outbreak in their hometown of Great Bend, Kansas. Attempting to fulfill their mother’s dying wish, they strike out on a one-horse wagon to travel the treacherous road along the Oregon Trail to the Montana Territory to live with their aunt. Caleb promised to keep his two sisters safe. But safety is thirteen hundred miles away in the rugged Bitterroot Mountains, past the dust-choked deserts, monstrous tornadoes and ravenous wolves of the Oregon Trail. And after witnessing a crime by the infamous Blackstone Gang, Caleb and his sisters have no choice but to brave the dangers of the trail, trying to stay one step ahead of murderous outlaws. 

I had the chance to ask him a few questions about the book and writing in general. Enjoy. 

Gef: Your stepfather worked as a journalist, with you as a "typewriter caddy" on occasion in your youth. What were some of the things you picked up in those days with regards to writing?

Eric: My stepfather, Robert Pierpoint, was an old guard, very professional newsman. It was his attention to detail and tireless research that impressed me. He was relentless when tracking down a story. And he was extremely disciplined. At that time of my life, I probably did not have those qualities in terms of writing. In my acting career, I did. But now, I am also developing these traits. I hear his voice when I need to keep on track and “Get to the story!” I also learned that writers are investigators. Of course, he was reporting the news and a reporter has to learn to condense his material. When my father wrote his book, it was more difficult for him to flesh it out and expand detail and story, rather than lean it out. So, I learned how to research, have discipline, investigate, and support facts. Now I am using those skills to enhance a hopefully rousing adventure.

Gef: You have an extensive acting career to boot, so what might you have taken from that profession to put towards your writing career?

Eric: Actors are storytellers. Sometimes it’s hard to shut us up. I love to tell stories. I love to entertain. I try to use this instinct in writing. As actors, we can dig pretty deep in our characters. When I write, I try to “play” all my characters and give them a good fleshing out, be they major or minor to the story. If it doesn’t seem right in terms of what they are going through or what they are saying, I keep at it until I feel they are real and authentic. I can build these characters with various traits or give them skills that as an actor, I would want to bring to an audience. I also think I have a built in timer that tells me to keep the story moving, especially for this age group. The last thing they need is boring exposition. Action! I can hear my agent’s voice. Boys really need excitement and entertainment in reading, not just a history lesson. I want all the readers to have a good time and visceral connection to the story. All actors probably fear being boring! Passion! Urgency! All these words rattle around in my head from years of acting. I try to give my writing these things.

Gef: The Last Ride has that coming-of-age vibe, with a western backdrop, which is not a blend that you see a whole lot of--at least I don't beyond thinking of True Grit and a couple Joe Lansdale stories? What was the initial lure towards this story for you?

Eric: Glad you picked up on the coming of age theme. When I first began to think about this story, I was on an adventure with my 12 year old Little Brother from Big Brothers Big Sisters. We were in Montana rafting, fishing, and having a great time. We did a horseback ride, just the two of us with a map and no guide, near Yellowstone. Once in a while I would look back to see how he was doing with his horse. The mountains rose around us as we rode through streams and valleys and the forest. We saw some amazing sights. I began to wonder how a boy might survive the hardships and dangers of the Wild West all alone. So, in the book, I stripped away everything Caleb had, all his comforts, and his parents. Caleb grows tremendously during The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole. He must travel from the dangerous cow town of Great Bend, Kansas all they way to Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains. Caleb has to gain the skills and strength to survive, deal with very bad men, ride, shoot, think and take care of his two sisters to boot. He learns from very good men and treacherous situations. He and his sisters must face the ultimate evil in the Blackstone Gang. He must confront this challenge. By the end he is well on his way to becoming his own man.

Gef: With a story like this and its historical setting and relevance, the research must have been exhaustive. How difficult is it as a writer to find that balance of what you've learned through your research and what to share through the writing process?

Eric: The research for historical fiction is endless. It’s hard to know when to quit. It’s also hard to know how much to give to your readers. I think the story is greatly enhanced by the constant research. It adds authenticity to the story and makes it come alive. It can also kill it. I had to remove a huge amount of fact in The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole because it was weighing everything down. I also had the outside eyes of my agent and editor to ring the gong when they felt things too tied up in detail and dry fact. “This passage is didactic!” “Cut!” My agent is really tough in this regard. She is a former editor. My editor is my agent on steroids. “Cut!” Anyway, it is a truly amazing process. You find in research that finding something interesting will lead you to a huge pile of equally interesting facts. Also, you cannot tell the whole story of, say, the Indian Wars or The Great Railroad Strike of 1877. But definitely put in the parts you believe to be essential and interesting. What I found so fascinating about this era were subjects that had not been given as much attention. Such as how some Indians and pioneers felt about the slaughter of the buffalo, the reasons for Indian and white conflict, the compassionate sides of certain Native American leaders. I was riveted on the subject of how women became doctors and where they were degreed. I wanted to show other sides to old stories. There is so much great material.

Gef: Middle-grade and YA literature often get spoken of as if they are genres unto themselves, but seem like much bigger sandboxes for authors and storytellers to play in. Do you see yourself revisiting stories from younger characters' viewpoints in the future, or is there something different you have planned for your next book?

Eric: In a way, I wrote the book I wish I had read as a kid. Most of the required reading seemed dull, the history dry. Maybe I was just lazy! I love this age group. I want to stimulate the imaginations of these kids with hopefully a rousing story, laced with the facts of the time. They are young enough, but smart enough for more historical fiction. I believe they could use more of it. I am visiting this age group again. My next book, and I am about 8 chapters into it, deals with a boy during the American Revolution. It is a huge adventure that centers around the great Battle of Yorktown. Talk about thick research! Holy…jees. I just went to Virginia to walk the battlefields, drive the route and breathe the air. I spoke with historians everywhere. These folks are passionate about that era. And they were also very attentive and generous with their time; especially I came up with questions that were different. One man I completely stumped with a question about the timing of a secret message a spy had delivered. We had an hour -long conversation that is now a major plot point in the book.

Gef: Thanks, Eric.

As for the rest of you, if you'd like to get your hands on a copy of The Last Ride of Caleb O'Toole, just head on over to Amazon by clicking here.

September 23, 2013

When the Dead Come Calling: a review of Mark West's "The Mill"

The Mill
by Mark West
76 pages
ISBN13: 9781475085242

Last year, I had the good fortune to read a Spectral Press chapbook called What Gets Left Behind by Mark West, which wound up being one of the best pieces of horror fiction I read in 2012. The Mill, a novella of Mark's published by Grayhart Press, doesn't quite hit the same memorable notes as that little gem, but it comes damned close.

In the wake of his wife's death, Michael joins a supported group for bereaving partners. It's little consolation, especially as he discovers that the voices he's been hearing near the old mill are not just in his head. Others in the group have heard them too, calling them to join their loved ones in the mill.

The atmosphere was enough to make my skin crawl at times, with the isolation and disembodied voices ringing through crystal clear. The quiet horror associated with the story ran right on par with the likes of Gary Fry, Paul Finch, and other writers adept at turning such utterly real events into something a little bit sinister and a little bit macabre.

The ending comes somewhat abruptly, but that's a small criticism, and it definitely didn't take away from the overall effect the story had. It's one more example of how really good horror can come in small packages, and how Britain seems like it's the go-to spot for literary horror.


September 20, 2013

White Hats, Wild Hogs, and Other Texas Myths: a review of Joe R. Lansdale's "The Thicket"

The Thicket
by Joe R. Lansdale
Mulholland Books (2013)
288 pages

It didn't take long for Joe Lansdale to become one of my favorite writers, after first reading his work just a few years ago. And while I haven't read all his books yet, by gawd I'm trying. From what I have read, I've noticed the man has a way of turning Texas into a near mythical place. Heck, maybe Texas is mythical and Lansdale is just passing word along. Whatever the case, his latest novel, The Thicket, presents an early-1900s East Texas as a land burgeoning into the modern age, with vestiges of the wild west all too present while harbingers of our modern times creeping into the landscape. One thing that seems to last forever is a thirst for justice.

Jack Parker, the narrator of this story, recounts a chapter of his youth following the death of his parents as smallpox ravaged the countryside. He, in his mid-teens at the time, and his younger sister, Lula, wind up in the care of their grandfather who aims to take them to Virginia where they'll be raised by their aunt. But while crossing a river aboard a ferry, Jack's grandfather is shot by a murderous outlaw Jack comes to know as Cutthroat Bill. Before Bill and his cohorts can turn their guns on the two young ones, a twister capsizes the ferry, placing Jack on one side of the river and his sister and Cutthroat Bill on the other. From there, Jack begins an odyssey to rescue his sister and bring his grandfather's killer to justice.

"Odyssey" seems like a good word too, as Jack's trek across Texas felt like a blend of True Grit and The Wizard of Oz. Charlie Portis' True Grit in the sense that it's a youth recruiting adults to chase an outlaw. L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz in the sense that the journey feels almost other-worldly as Jack employs and ultimately befriends a ragtag bunch that includes a couple of cantankerous bounty hunters, an enterprising prostitute, and even a large hog that may be the most formidable member of the posse, only instead of a wicked witch tailing them, they're tailing a wicked man.

What starts out as a coming-of-age revenge tale evolves as Jack's story progresses. If it had been kept to the matter-of-fact pursuit of a murderer, I would have still been on board, but Lansdale goes the extra mile in offering a conflicted young man who has trouble reconciling his rigid sense of right and wrong, instilled by his upbringing, and a growing thirst for revenge. There's this wonderful parallel set up between Jack's awkward steps into adulthood and that of the twentieth century's encroachment on the outskirts of Texas. Jack's world is eroding, his moral compass and reverence for his elders challenged, while the backdrop shows horses make way for new contraptions called automobiles, and talk of oil seems as much the talk of magic.

Another of Lansdale's specialties comes to bear, with an expert balance of humor and horror, as Jack and his motley crew share mirthful and witty exchanges, then find themselves contending with the more vicious and unforgiving aspects of the wild west. The brutality in some scenes really makes you appreciate the humor in others. And sometimes it all happens at once, as evidenced by that unpredictable Hog and his eating habits. Such is life, whether old or modern, I suppose.

On a side-note, this is the third book published by Mulholland Books that I've read this year, and all three have been notably diverse in tone, theme, and style (Duane Swierczynski's Point and Shoot and Lauren Beukes' The Shining Girls being the other two). Crime is a big tent genre and it's reassuring to see they've made room for eclectic gems like The Thicket.


September 19, 2013

Old Flames, Burned Hands: a guest post by Tim McGregor

Tim McGregor has a new novel out now called Old Flames, Burned Hands. To help get the word out a little bit, Tim has stopped by the blog to offer up a little guest post. Enjoy.

Sometimes you get a second chance...
Two years ago, our book-loving host here at Wag the Fox, let me participate in his Monster Movie Marathon. I wrote about making movies and the changes that occur from script to screen. In particular, I kvetched about watching a vampire script I had written turn into a really bad movie. (You can read that post here)
I had a lot of fun writing that spec script, knowing it would make a tight little horror movie, only then to watch it devolve into a shitshow. What rankled was the wasted opportunity, in particular the vamp mythology that I came up with, all of which was cut from the final draft.
Well, turns out there was a sliver lining. I got a second chance by penning another vampire tale but this time, a novel. That means no producers, directors or marketing schmucks to fight against. (That also means that if it’s a failure, it’s my failure but I’ll take those odds). God bless self-publishing and the new world of ebooks.
Old Flames, Burned Hands is about a married woman whose life is suddenly complicated by the return of an old boyfriend, one who died almost twenty years ago. (Cue spooky music here...)
The core idea was the notion of the old flame; the girlfriend or boyfriend from the past that left their mark on us. I’m sure I’m not the first person to wonder whatever happened to this old girlfriend or that old flame and then look them up on Facebook. Or been contacted out of the blue by someone you dated a lifetime ago. Kurt Vonnegut once stated that his favourite hobby was ringing up old girlfriends after he’d had a few drinks. We’ve all done it.
But why we do that? Are we looking to settle some score? Is it some irrational need to show that person who broke your heart that you’re soooo much better off without them now?
A related story (names changed to protect the innocent). Two summers ago, my friend Jay passed away. I had known Jay since we were both 12 and he remained a dear (if sometimes mad) friend and I miss him terribly. Last fall, our mutual friend Cooper was contacted thru Facebook by an old girlfriend of Jay’s. Chloe was the girl that broke Jay’s heart back when we were 18. You remember what that was like, right? So Cooper and Chloe catch up (marriage, kids, career, etc) and then Chloe eventually asks how Jay is doing. Jay had never been on FB, nor did he have much of a web presence and thus was not easy to look up. Coop had the unenviable duty of telling the poor woman that Jay was gone. How hard that must have been for both of them; for Cooper to give that awful news and for Chloe to receive it.
That haunted me for a long time and, while none of those details are in the book, that awful circumstance informed the story more than anything. That’s not to say the book’s a downer. If anything, I think it’s got a pretty good premise...
Struggling to balance a career in music with her obligations as a wife and mom, Tilda Parish’s life becomes complicated by the return of an old boyfriend, one who died almost twenty years ago.

About Old Flames, Burned Hands: At 24, Tilda Parish had it all; her own band and a man she knew was 'the one' but fate had other plans. A fatal car crash took her boyfriend's life and sent Tilda into a spiral of grief.

Seventeen years later, Tilda is married with a 13-year old daughter but her career as a singer-songwriter has been turbulent and unstable. Unable to balance her volatile career with her obligations to her family, Tilda makes a life-changing decision to walk away from music forever. Yet, after burning her guitar in a ritual bonfire, Tilda discovers that the past isn't done with her. Hints of her old life pop up mysteriously and ghosts of her past haunt her present.

Alone one night, Tilda confronts an intruder she believes to be a stalker but the figure that steps from the shadows almost stops her heart. Her old beau appears, the one who died all those years ago.

He hasn't aged a day. He says that he never stopped loving her and that he wants her back. Despite his death and the intervening seventeen years, Tilda realizes that she never stopped loving him either.

And now Tilda Parish is caught between two worlds; the everyday world of her husband and family and this new spooky world of an old lover who has returned from the shadow of death to find her.

What's an ex-musician to do?

If you're interested in getting yourself a copy, you can visit Amazon by clicking here.

September 18, 2013

Wish List Wednesday #146: Larry Correia's "Monster Hunter International"

WLW is a recurring blog segment in which I highlight a book I have on my wish list. Sometimes it's a new release, sometimes a beloved classic, and sometimes it's a hidden gem.

It seems there is a veritable horn of plenty if you're a reader craving urban fantasy. No matter how many authors I discover who are writing about monsters, ghosts, and all the rest in a contemporary. setting, there are ten more authors I haven't discovered yet that are doing it, too. One such author pinged on my radar while listening to a sci-fi/fantasy podcast--I forget which one--that recommended Larry Correia and his Monster Hunter International series of books.

Hunting monsters isn't terribly original in the urban fantasy genre, sure, but all it takes is an author who can put their own spin on it, and do it well, and people will read it in droves. And it looks like Correia has quite a following already, even hitting the New York Times bestseller lists with his books. Not too shabby. How the heck did I not hear about him until this past year?

I've read a couple of his short stories that are set in this MHI universe, and there is a great blend of humor, horror, and action. I have a good feeling that I'll enjoy this book and the series as a whole. The trick is making time to dig into Correia's books sometime. For now, I have this book on my wish list, and I'll hopefully hop on the bandwagon in the near future.

How about you? Have you read any books from this series, or any of Correia's other books? If so, leave a comment and let me know what you thought.

September 16, 2013

Murder and Bigots and Bears, Oh My!: a review of Joe R. Lansdale's "The Two-Bear Mambo"

The Two-Bear Mambo (Hap & Leonard #3)
by Joe R. Lansdale
Mysterious Press (1995)
284 pages
ISBN-13: 9780892964918

Grovetown is a tiny easy Texas town sprung from the imagination of Joe R. Lansdale, and an astonishing wellspring of dyed-in-the-wool racists that Hap and Leonard must wade through in order to find a mutual acquaintance. I'd swear such a town couldn't exist in this day and age, but then again, Barrack Obama becoming President sure did bring that simmering bigotry right out into the daylight. I can picture the residents of Grovetown absolutely blowing their gaskets to hear a black man became the leader of the free world. I mean, the way they lose it when Leonard shows up and doesn't suffer their bull, their addled brains would likely melt and ooze out their ears at the news.

Anyway, Hap and Leonard have tangled with some tough hombres in the two previous novels, but throw in outright hatred, and the two best friends have the deck doubly stacked against them. Hap instantly has a bad feeling about it, because the fella asking him and Leonard to check up on her is the same guy she dumped him for in the first place, a detective no less. Since Hap and Leonard owe the surly cop a favor anyway, and Hap wants to see her again anyway, they pack the car and head out to Copperhead Springs and all its scenery.

The tiny town is ugly to look at though, a low-lying patch of dirt that's seen its share of flooding near the Bottoms, but it ain't half as ugly as the minds of those living there with the deep-seeded ignorance and intolerance that would seem cartoonish to outsiders. Leonard is barely healed up from the last time he got in a near-death altercation, but still marches fists first into the next one with the local yokels take exception to his less-than-lilly-white complexion. And things just get worse for the two men when it looks more and more like Florida has run afoul of the same type of fate that sent her on a crusade in the first place--and Hap and Leonard are shaping up to join her at the rate they're going.

If it wasn't for the internet and the wretched displays of intolerance it has offered to my genteel nature--ain't that rich--Copperhead Springs might be too over-the-top in its portrayal of bigotry. Lansdale pretty much nails it in my estimation, contextualizing the ugliness of it through the actions and words of both sides. As much as there's a mystery about what happened to Florida, the question of how beat up and broke down Hap and Leonard are going to be by the end of the novel is even more intriguing.

Just damned good stuff with maybe the best fight scenes I've read in a while.

Available at

September 12, 2013

Writing with the Devil At His Heels: an interview with Chris F. Holm, author of "The Big Reap"

I recently read and reviewed The Big Reap, the third book in the Collector trilogy by Chris F. Holm. A great cap on the trilogy, I thought, and all the excuse I needed to contact Chris to ask him a few questions about the series and his writing. Enjoy!

Gef: Three novels now in the Collector series. A bona fide trilogy. How does it feel to be on the other end of a journey like that? Feel a little wiser, maybe a little battle-scarred?

Chris: Right now I feel spent, and terrified that the whole thing's out in the world for all to read. Maybe George R. R. Martin can hold thousands of pages' worth of story in his head, but I sure can't, so trying to wrap up a trilogy in a satisfying manner involved a whole lot of checking details with CTRL-F and flying by the seat of my pants. Thankfully, most folks seem to like where book three ended up, but I doubt I'll have any idea whether I personally feel that I succeeded for quite some time.

Gef: Blending genres can be tricky, I reckon. With the hard-boiled elements, along with the fantastical, did you find yourself doing some kind of balancing act there, or was there something else to the process that had you more concerned?

Chris: Actually, blending hard-boiled elements with the fantastical came easily to me, because both flowed from Sam's voice, Sam's back-story. The real trick was satisfying the requirements of fair-play mystery within that fantastical framework. Obviously, when you're writing about bug monsters and arcane rituals, plausibility is out the window -- but I still wanted the conclusion of each novel to appear inevitable in retrospect. To do that, I had to establish the rules of Sam's world as best I could and then abide by them no matter what.

The other thing I struggled with was making each book stand on its own. Obviously, they tell a larger story as a series, but I wanted each of them to be complete unto themselves. Whether I succeeded is for the audience to decide.

Gef: With each book a bit episodic in nature, featuring Sam's character development through the course of the trilogy must have been tricky as well. Did you always see his evolution there from the beginning with Dead Harvest, or did it kind of grow as the stories moved along?

Chris: My philosophy when it comes to writing is if my protagonist ends the story in more or less the same place he or she started, I probably picked the wrong damn story to tell. I knew at the outset Sam would evolve over the course of the series. I knew that his evolution wouldn't be consensus-good or -bad, because I wanted to stress the notion that good or evil is not so much a state of existence as an endless series of choices. But of course the details of his character development were borne of story, and since I didn't outline the Collector series, they were often as much a surprise to me as my audience.

Gef: I listened to a podcast interview with Lauren Beukes a while back--Geek's Guide, maybe?--and she mentioned how serial killers have an affinity for puns. Given the wordplay with the titles of your novels and the wink-and-nod to Raymond Chandler, should we be worried?

Chris: Maybe, but if that's the case, the people we should really look out for are the cozy authors; they elevate the title-pun to an art form. YOU CANNOLI DIE ONCE. A BREW TO A KILL. MALLED TO DEATH. And that's just off the top of my head.

Gef: As I read The Big Reap, I felt there was an almost serialized quality to the chapters, with Sam's globe-trotting monster hunt. Was that at all intentional on your part, perhaps influenced by the penny dreadfuls of old?

Chris: I love that you caught that, because that was in fact partly an homage to an old-fashioned serial. It was also my riff on the classic set 'em up and knock 'em down revenge-tale structure seen in everything from Stuart Neville's THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST to Tarantino's Kill Bill. And, of course, it afforded me the opportunity to tell a series of horror vignettes, each paying homage to a specific movie monster.

But there's another, more practical reason I opted for such an approach: time. I knew the meat of the overarching story I wanted to tell, but I needed some decent bones to hang it on. And I only had six months to bang out the manuscript. So I developed a game-plan that allowed me to break the writing into chunks small enough for me to hold in my head, and then I wrote like the devil was at my heels. It might not be an elegant answer, but it's the truth.

Gef: Speaking of serial fiction, do you think the Collector series might be served in lieu of a new novel anytime soon with shorter works? Or is the novel format the preferred length when exploring Sam's world?

Chris: Thus far, the only Collector stories that have presented themselves to me have been novel-length. In fact, each novel's been a little longer than the last. But that's not to say I wouldn't write a short if one occurred to me, about Sam or other characters from the Collectorverse. Every once and a while, some half-baked nugget of a story occurs to me -- the latest being a skewed take on the underrated neo-noir flick Red Rock West, in which Sam repeatedly tries and fails to snatch the same soul -- but I've learned with short stories, it's best not to force things. When one wants to be written, it'll let me know.

Gef: I understand it that you're working on a supernatural thriller next, set in Maine no less. What in the heck is it about Maine that makes it such an alluring backdrop for dark fiction, anyway?

Chris: Maybe it's Maine's stark beauty. Maybe it's the long winters. Truth is, I don't know, but I'll tell you this: I didn't start writing in earnest until I moved to Maine in '01. And I'm afraid to move away, for fear the words won't follow. Which, truth be told, is no big deal, because now that I'm here, I can't imagine living anywhere else.

Gef: Well, a big thanks to Chris for stopping by the blog for this interview. You can find out more about the Collector series and whatever else Chris is working on by visiting

As for the rest of you, if you'd like to read my thoughts on the Collector trilogy, just click on the following link to see my reviews on: Dead Harvest, The Wrong Goodbye, and The Big Reap.

Or you can buy a copy of any or all of the books and read them for yourself.




September 11, 2013

Wish List Wednesday #145: Mike Resnick's "The Buntline Special"

WLW is a recurring blog segment in which I highlight a book I have on my wish list. Sometimes it's a new release, sometimes a beloved classic, and sometimes it's a hidden gem.

The "weird western" is a genre I've come to appreciate over the last few years. I always dug those old westerns with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin growing up, so throw in a fantasy or sci-fi element and a guy like me would love westerns all the more, with few exceptions.

While looking for a few more titles to put on my wish list, one author's name came up more than a couple times. Mike Resnick. I've never read his work before, but he has a few Hugo Awards under his belt and quite a fan base, and he also has a weird western series. It starts with a novel called The Buntline Special.

This series has a steampunk twist to it too, so as far as genre goes this is a real hodge-podge. But hey, it's the story that matters, not the category on Amazon. Me, I'm all in favor of blending genres. I was never cut out to be a hardliner, getting bristled by a horror novel with sci-fi elements or a mystery novel with fantasy elements. Just tell me a story and dress it up however you like.

How about you? Do you like genre-mixing or do you just hate it when peas get into your mashed potatoes?

September 10, 2013

Chasing Tale (9/10/13): Putting a Stop to Gay Penguins and Other Stupid Crusades

Chasing Tale is a regular look at the books that I recently added to my to-be-read pile. Some are advance review copies, some I bought from one store or another, and others are freebies from promotional offers that caught my eye.

Banned Books Week is quickly approaching and that means we get to read about all of the addle-brained dipsticks out there trying to ban books from libraries, because gawd forbid their little one reads a book with a gay character, or includes a four-letter word, or features teenagers acting like--gasp!--teenagers.

Every year this thing comes around and every year I am astounded by the willful ignorance of anal-retentive snivelers. What's more, it would not surprise me in the least to find out the people raising a stink over a book in the school library are the same people raising a stink over the healthy food being put into the school cafeteria. Gub'ment got no bid'ness banning french fries! What they oughta do is get rid of them gay agenda books they keeping sneaking onto the shelves--I KNOW WHAT THEM PENGUINS IS UP TO!

Look, if you want to deprive your children of literature as misguidedly as you deprive them of nutrients, that's your business. Be an asshole, but do it in the comfort of your own home and keep that nonsense away from the schools, because the only thing threatening the well-being of our kids is you.

Now, as for my own bookshelves, which are thankfully safe from the assholes of the world, I added some more books to them. Take a look and let me know what you added recently to your own shelves.

Exquisite Death by various authors - I don't think I've ever reviewed an audiobook on the blog before. So this new anthology just might be the first in that department. It features a fair number of authors whose work I'm already familiar with, like Anthony J. Rapino, Cate Gardner, and Benjamin K. Ethridge, and after listening to the first couple of stories I am already digging it.

The Stories: Five Years of Original Fiction on by various authors - This e-book came free via and, boy, is it huge. I thought it might be a selection of the best from the five years they've been posting short stories on their website. Nope, this thing might be all the stories. Aye chihuahua.

Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed - Ahmed's novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, has garnered a lot of praise over the last year or so. Turns out he has quite a few short stories to his credit as well, and wouldn't you know he offered this collection as a freebie. Sweet.

The Point by Gerard Brennan - This is a new novella published by the lads at Blasted Heath. I can't recall reading any Irish noir yet, so maybe this'll be a good place to start. There's already a sequel called Breaking Point that's set to release in the near future, too.

Tell My Stories to the Stones by Christopher Golden - I've seen Christopher's name on a lot of tie-in novels, but he's an accomplished short story writer, too. Chizine Publications has this new collection of his stories out now and ought to be a really fun read.

Baby, You're As Sweet As 3.14159265 by Hog Wild - Aside from research, the only other time I pick up a nonfiction title is if there's a chance it'll make me laugh. HogWild, a stand-up comic out of New York, and after checking out a couple pages of this book, this book looks more promising than its title.
Life After Dane by EdwardLorn - Ed stopped by the blog a little while ago for an interview, promoting his latest book here. A serial killer's mom has to contend with more than guilt and grief when her son won't stay dead. Creepy.

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn - Imagine a world where everyone can read each other's minds, and those who can't--and in turn can't be read themselves--are treated as pariahs. Now imagine a girl in this world who can't read minds, but can control them. Pretty nifty hook, huh?

Celestial Inventories by Steve Rasnic Tem - Here's another short story collection published by Chizine, featuring more than twenty stories from an author who has dipped his toes into just about every genre you can think of. While some of the stories are apparently from "Best of" anthologies, others come from rare releases and hard-to-find magazines.

Celebromancy by Michael R.Underwood - This is the sequel to Underwood's Geekomancy, I saw this one on sale this summer for a few bucks, so I scooped it up. I haven't bought the first book yet, but I've heard great things and a nice sale price on this one was a good enticement.

The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake - I've been meaning to check out Westlake's Dortmunder series, and I managed to track down a cheap paperback copy of the first book, here. Heist novels aren't something I've read a lot of, but I love a good caper movie, so I figure I should be reading more novels in the genre. Makes sense, right?